No thanks to a concert schedule that gave recording sessions a low priority, Louis Armstrong's period at Verve was unconscionably short -- only a little over a year (August 1956 to October 1957). But since Verve chief Norman Granz liked to record his artists a lot, Armstrong's Verve sessions produced quite a harvest -- six albums on eight LPs, including three with the redoubtable Ella Fitzgerald -- substantial portions of which are included in this well-packed two-CD set. The albums Ella and Louis Again and Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson get the most exposure with eight tracks apiece, the first Ella and Louis album gets five, I've Got the World on a String gets four, and Louis Under the Stars and, strangely, the Porgy and Bess album with Fitzgerald only get three each. Granz caught Armstrong at a fortuitous time, the autumn of his life, where he had reached a mellow state of artistic maturity with his trumpet powers still intact, and Granz fed him a steady diet of time-tested standards to work out on, world-class rhythm sections from the Verve roster, big orchestras, and of course, a matchless duet partner named Ella Fitzgerald. Among highlights too numerous to summarize, check out the sublime arrangement of "When Your Lover Has Gone," a simply heartbreaking statement of the tune of "You Go to My Head" on muted trumpet, and the exhaustive catalog of intercouplings that marks Satchmo's irreverently easygoing rendering of Cole Porter's complete "Let's Do It" with Peterson's quartet. Listeners also get a studio sound-check breakdown of "Back Home in Indiana" at a fast Dixieland tempo, with Peterson comping up a storm, Armstrong playing through his mouthpiece, and overheard studio dialogue -- an informal vérité gem. Probably because the programmers couldn't resist rummaging through PolyGram's vast acquired jazz archive, the second CD ends rather incongruously with two Armstrong all-star tracks from 1964 and 1965 -- "The Three of Us" and "Pretty Little Missy" -- nice performances but out of place in a Verve survey. They should have instead squeezed in the soulful 1957 "Body and Soul," or something else from Satch's once-undervalued Verve period.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
feat: Russell Garcia